Skip to content

Child marriage and the insurgency: an unholy union

The damage caused by the insurgency, and the failure to build back, is driving poor families to effectively sell off underage girls

Today’s front pages in Maputo. Photo credit: Faizal Chauque / Zitamar News

Good afternoon. Today's report from the humanitarian charity Save the Children (see below) draws attention to what we already knew about the violent insurgency that has ravaged Cabo Delgado province for six years now. More and more locals who fled their homes to escape the insurgents are returning homeward, but this is nowhere near the end of their troubles. Homes and infrastructure are often destroyed, forcing them to live in camp-like conditions without basic services. In many cases, families are not able to occupy their old homes. Even in their own districts, their status as rootless, dependent quasi-migrants continues.

The uprooting of communities has also encouraged an old and troubling problem in Mozambique, that of child marriages, as the report notes. Legally the minimum age to get married in Mozambique is 18, but this is widely ignored, particularly in poorer and more rural communities. Ingrained beliefs about marrying young girls are hard to remove, even among relatively well-educated people. Only two weeks ago, President Filipe Nyusi was forced to dismiss his provincial secretary of state for Manica province, Dick Kassotche, after Kassotche questioned the ban on underage marriages and argued that “there are children aged 10 who have the body of a 23-year-old mother”.

Leader article continues below for Pro subscribers. Subscribers to the Zitamar News tier can read the full leader article here.

Already before the insurgency, the marrying off of underage girls was a well-recognised and studied problem. A 2017 report by the government and Unicef, the United Nations agency for children, found that Mozambique had the second-highest rate of child marriage in southern and eastern Africa, with 14% of girls under 15 married, and 48% under 18.

Poverty and lack of education have long been drivers of child marriage. A struggling family can get rid of a mouth to feed, and also earn a bride-price from their daughter. According to the United Nations Population Fund, school attendance is the biggest factor determining whether an underage girl gets married or not. In 2020 it found that only 6% of girls aged 15-17 who attended school had been married, compared to almost half who had never attended or had left school.

This post is for subscribers on the Zitamar Pro tier


Already have an account? Log in